Category Archives: security

The rule of Humbuggery

I had no idea of the enormous and unquestionably helpful part that humbug plays in the social life of great peoples dwelling in a state of democratic freedom.

That’s yer eck-shul Churchill, that is. De reel fing. Pukka!

And the greatest exponent of Humbuggery is, as always, the All-powerful State.

A Malcolmian aside

Here’s one worth the asking: when did the United Kingdom abolish feudalism?

Well, not even yet. There are bods wandering the world, still puffing out chests and conning the natives they are of some importance, because they are allowed to flourish a baronial title.

But, on another level, after 9th June 2000, with the Abolition of Feudal Tenure etc. (Scotland) Act. As Clause 1 of the Act has it:

The feudal system of land tenure, that is to say the entire system whereby land is held by a vassal on perpetual tenure from a superior is, on the appointed day, abolished. 

Humbug 101

Here’s a simple example, to become  a British citizen one must demonstrate capabilities in English, for example:

take and pass an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) course in English with citizenship to demonstrate your knowledge of language and life in the UK, before you apply for naturalisation as a British citizen.

Mr Spock would furrow his Vulcan brow and mutter, “Illogical, Captain”. Surely that should be the qualification for English citizenship. For British citizenship it ought to be a degree of fluency in Welsh (or at a pinch Cornish). For Scottish citizenship, the Guid Scots Tongue or Gàidhlig. And then there’s Ian Adamson and his Ullans.

Advanced study

Once upon  a time we had a Freedom of Information Act. The laudable aim was the citizen should have a right to know what the public authorities, operating in her/his name, knew and were up to.

Officialdom and bureaucracy loathed it.

So Humbuggery set about by-passing it by any means, fair or foul.

An obvious means was to classify anything that wasn’t screwed down as “commercial confidentiality”. This could vary from government Department to Department, largely depending on whether or not the responsible Minister wanted to keep a job. That one was traipsed out, recently and notoriously, in the cover-up over the West Coast Main Line:

The independent report into the fiasco of the franchise for the West Coast Main Line, which runs through the West Midlands, was altered by the Department for Transport (DfT) before it was published, MPs were told.

There had been “redactions” by the department to “remove the identities” of certain civil servants involved in the flawed franchise bidding process, said businessman Sam Laidlaw, the author of the report…

Mr Laidlaw told the committee he presented his report to the DfT on November 28, the department published it on December 6, and there had been redactions to his report made by the department which were “a matter for the department”.

Asked about the changes made, Mr Laidlaw said they were done “to protect the commercial confidentiality of bidders” and “to remove the identity of certain individuals”.


Now there‘s an interesting term.

As far as Malcolm can recall it is a respectable academic expression meaning no more, no less than “editing”, particularly in the sense of cleaning up meaning and expression for a final published version. As the OED has it:

a. The action of bringing or putting into a definite form; (now) spec. the working or drafting of source material into a distinct, esp. written, form. Usu. with into, (occas.) to.
b. The action or process of revising or editing text, esp. in preparation for publication; (also) an act of editorial revision.
c. A new version of a text; a new edition; spec. an abridged version.
2. The action of driving back; resistance, reaction. Obs. rare.

redactThat, of course, is the Oxford English Dictionary: the term “redaction” implies assisting the reader’s comprehension. In British officialese, of course, the term means precisely the opposite.

At least in Tristram Shandy ,the blank pages and other devices convey some meaning. Compare and contrast the BBC’s Pollard Report (as right). For a prime example of Humbuggery consider this from the first paragraph [1] of that BBC document:

The BBC sought advice from external counsel to identify text that should be redacted in accordance with the legal grounds for redaction. The proposed redactions were considered by members of the Executive Board before being reviewed and approved by a sub-committee of the BBC Trust to ensure the Trust was satisfied that these were in line with the expectations of transparency previously set out. Then, individuals who participated in the Review were provided with an opportunity to read the material in redacted form and make representations concerning the redactions that had been applied. Those representations were then considered, with advice again taken from external counsel, before a final package of proposed redactions was reviewed by members of the Executive Board and approved by the same sub-committee of the BBC Trust.

At a quick check, that’s six separate layers of bureaucratic scrutiny and Humbuggery, before anything could be made public.

Secret courts bill

No, let’s no go there — yet.

Let’s start instead in 1166, at the Assize of Clarendon. Whether or not Goveian history embraces this seminal event, it certainly featured in Malcolm’s schooling. [On the TCD History course, it reappeared, courtesy of Stubbs’s Charters.] The significance was that it, in effect, “nationalised” the law of the land; and it led to trial on evidence, before juries, rather than the mumbo-jumbo of trials by ordeal or battle. It was, of course, something of a power-grab — not just taking authority from the baronial courts, but also from the Church’s “kingdom within a kingdom”. King Henry II was destroying an existing arrangement; but also reaching back for an older one: the juries of the Saxon tunmoots.

The Assize of Clarendon was the first of many small advances to creating the Rule of Law that we have known and loved.

The processes of recent years — getting rid of the flummeries of Latin expression and the like, but, above all, the idea of human rights — have made the law more accessible. In a world ruled by Humbuggery all that has to be put into reverse.

Yesterday the Commons retreated on so much of historical procedures. In four votes, LibDem MPs — in grotesque rejection of anything that could be “liberal” or “democratic” — were whipped to support the Tory Humbuggers. Outside Westminster the average LibDem activists must be weeping into their skinny lattes:

Its’s not been the easiest 24 hours to be a Liberal Democrat. It was very hard to watch the majority of our MPs vote to remove the right to a fair trial in civil cases where national security is deemed to be a factor.  Just seven MPs voted in favour of amendments advised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The fact that the JCHR had a different view from the Government should surely have raised a huge red flag. An even bigger signal that our MPs were on the wrong course was the fact that Labour were voting in favour of the JCHR amendments. The Bill as it stood was too illiberal for the Party who thought it was ok to lock people up for 3 months without charge.

I spent a bit of yesterday talking to some MPs. I appreciated the time they spent discussing with me but despaired at the way they had swallowed some of the lines they had been given on the Bill. I was asked what my response would be to the “we’re paying money to terrorists and can’t prove our innocence” line. Well, my instinctive counter to that was to say:

If I’m suing you cos you tortured me and you put up a defence that I can’t see, how am I supposed to let the Judge know that you are talking hogwash?

I have been told today that a Very Clever Person thinks that’s a good summary of what this Bill means, and why the shredder is the only place for it. There is no amendment that can make it acceptable.

Thank you for that, Caron Lindsay at LibDemVoice: it’s warming to know your party had a shred of decency left. As she goes on:

At one point, our Dr Julian Huppert asked a very important question of Ken Clarke  about whether the Bill covered civil habeas corpus – whether people could be locked up without being told the reason why. Clarke didn’t  know and he laughed about the fact that he had to get it checked out.

We really have reached the pits. The shivering spine recalls it was Hendrik Verwoerd, the primary architect of apartheid, who responded to British government criticism by saying he would give up his restrictive legislation in exchange for the British tolerated Northern Ireland Special Powers Act. That Act was designed to give maximum, even unbridled power to the Ulster Unionist ascendancy. It permitted closing pubs and clubs at a whim, banning meetings and gatherings, closing roads, occupying premises, destroying any building without any sure compensation, enforcing oaths of allegiance (the Lady in Malcolm’s Life had to take one), prohibiting inquests, outlawing “false reports or make false statements by word of mouth or in writing, or in any newspaper, periodical, book, circular, or other printed publication” (the judge of such “falseness” being the persons complained about). All to be enforced by ” if a male, to be once privately whipped”. If all that wasn’t enough,

any act if done without lawful authority or without lawful authority or excuse is an offence against the regulations, the burden of proving that the act was done with lawful authority or with lawful authority or excuse shall rest on the person alleged to be guilty of the offence.

Humbuggery hasn’t gone that far, yet …

Except this new bill allows any — any — trial which could cause political embarrassment to be held behind closed doors, unreported, with all involved (except the arraigned) declared Persil-clean and hoovered by the security services.

As the Guardian editorial has it:

The justice and security bill was cooked up in rage and embarrassment after a run of cases revealed, or threatened to reveal, UK collusion in torture and wrongdoing. There was Binyam Mohamed, the British resident who British judges ruled ended up being tortured in a Moroccan jail with the connivance of British intelligence, and then a string of others whom ministers preferred to pay off and shut up before the facts could emerge. Rather than asking what corruption of culture had embroiled a once-decent state in such indecent things, the government’s instinctive response was to ask the judges to hear the arguments in secret. When the supreme court said no in ringing terms – Lord Hope warning secrecy “cut across absolutely fundamental principles, such as the right to be confronted by one’s accusers and the right to know the reasons for the outcome” – ministers again refused to stop and rethink, but instead resolved to rewrite the law.

That editorial refers back to a Liberty pamphlet, written by Jesse Norman (now a Tory MP) which celebrates Churchill’s stand for human rights, and is prefaced by a quotation from his Fulton, Missouri, speech:

We must never cease to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man which are the joint inheritance of the English-speaking world and which through Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the Habeas Corpus, trial by jury, and the English common law find their most famous expression in the American Declaration of Independence.

Oddly enough, Mr Norman does not seem to have found himself able to vote, or express a view in Monday’s debate on the Secret Courts bill.

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Trigger hacked-off: help from on high at hand?

“Trigger” Mulcaire may have scored Wimbledon’s first, ever, but more recently it’s been all own goals.

Let us then celebrate that the Supreme Court (it had to go that far!) has told him to cough on who was his News International puppet master.

Mulcaire received as much as £850,000 from the News of the Screws for his dutiful services, hacking upwards of 5,795 people (as of the November 2011 count). We may safely assume it wasn’t out of petty cash. The obvious name in the frame is Greg Miskiw, the News of the Screws Assistant Editor, That’s assistant to Andy Coulson. Now — conveniently  — Miskiw is a resident of Palm Beach, Florida.

A further reasonably assumption is this went all the way to the top, even beyond Miskiw, particularly because Max Clifford waived his claim for compensation after he met with Rebekah Brooks (but before Mulcaire’s conviction) and agreed a fee of a cool million for Clifford’s slimy future services.

The Orange card

Miskiw may have a 28-pounder shell, primed and ready, in his ammunition locker, because nobody, but nobody will be too keen on developing the Northern Irish dimension. Once again we are back to Stakeknife.

Miskiw was buddies with Alex Marunchuk, once the Screws crime reporter, then Irish editor. Marunchuk was a partner with Jonathan Rees in Pure Energy. Miskiw and Rees were partners in Abbeycover, which itself was an adjust of Southern Investigations, which takes us to ex-copper and child-pornographer Sid Fillery. The Rees-Marunchuk link takes us into trojan emails and computer hacking (and so to the police Operation Tuleta). Then there’s Operation Kalmyk, which is focused on Rees hacking Ian Hurst (a.k.a. Martin Ingram) — which is the Stakeknife connection.

As Malcolm was noting a year back, by that stage we are into the viscera of the beast, the notorious Force Research Unit, at Thiepval Barracks, in Lisburn.


No, no, a thousand times no. This is not paranoia.

The Smithwick Tribunal in Dublin is looking at the IRA murders of Chief Sup Harry Breen and Super Bob Buchanan of the RUC at Jonesborough in the South Armagh/County Louth border country, apparently returning from a covert meeting with the Irish security service in Dundalk. Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP MP, has alleged that the IRA were tipped off by Garda DS Owen Corrigan. Corrigan’s IRA “handler” is alleged to be the (equally alleged) double-agent Freddie “Stakeknife” Scappaticci. Scappaticci, along with the late John Joe Magee of Dundalk are (even more alleged) to have been the key members of the IRA “nutting squad”. One further “alleged” is that Scappaticci was second only to the OC IRA Northern Command, a certain Máirtín Mag Aonghusa, MP, MLA.

Ian Hurst, after extensive going-and-froing was induced to give evidence to Smithwick: that was redacted for public consumption. The RTÉ reports, especially that of 26th April, should be required reading.

And you thought it was all about Milly Dowler’s phone?

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After HAL comes VIXAL-4

That florish [OED: 3. Ostentatious embellishment; gloss, varnish] about 2001 was a by-product of Malcolm reading Robert Harris’s latest thriller, The Fear Index.

The essential conceit is that physicist Dr Alex Hoffmann baled out of CERN to use his computer skills commercially:

‘And you’ve lived in Switzerland for how long, Dr Hoffmann?’
‘Fourteen years.’ Weariness once again almost overtook him. ‘I came out here in the nineties to work for CERN, on the Large Hadron Collider. I was there for about six years.’
‘And now?’
‘I run a company.’
‘Hoffmann Investment Technologies.’
‘And what does it make?’
‘What does it make? It makes money. It’s a hedge fund.’

What he has created is a program. Hoffmann’s thesis is:

‘Our conclusion is that fear is driving the world as never before…

‘… why should al-Qaeda arouse more fear than the threat of mutually assured destruction did during the Cold War in the fifties and sixties  — which, incidentally, were times of great market growth and stability? Our conclusion is that digitalisation itself is creating an epidemic of fear, and that Epictetus had it right: we live in a world not of real things but of opinion and fantasy. The rise in market volatility, in our opinion, is a function of digitalisation, which is exaggerating human mood swings by the unprecedented dissemination of information via the internet.’

Hence, a program which captures data in real time, and instantly applies it to anticipate and exploit shifts in the bourses and money markets. This program is VIXAL-4 (“VIX” for the S&P 500 Volatility Index; “AL” for algorithm; and “4” because

‘We’re now on to the fourth iteration, which with notable lack of imagination we call VIXAL-4.

This conceit was thoroughly considered in a Guardian review by Emmanuel Roman, chief operating officer of the Man Group.

All of which needs to be appreciated in light of Stuxnet, Duqu and now Flame. All of those seem to have a government agency behind them. If Harris is anywhere near “on the money”, someone, somewhere is already working on a VIXAL:

Quarry at the trading screen could hardly credit what he was seeing. In seconds the Dow had slipped from minus 800 to minus 900. Te VIX was up by forty per cent — dear sweet Christ, that was close on a half-billion-dollar profit he was looking at right there on that one position. Already, VIXAL was exercising its options on the shorted stocks, picking them up at insanely low prices — P&G, Accenture, Wynn Resorts, Exelon, 3-M …

So who is trying to kill Dr Hoffmann?

That, of course, is where we revert to HAL9000:

Interviewer: HAL, you have an enormous responsibility on this mission, in many ways perhaps the greatest responsibility of any single mission element. You’re the brain, and central nervous system of the ship, and your responsibilities include watching over the men in hibernation. Does this ever cause you any lack of confidence? 
HAL: Let me put it this way, Mr. Amor. The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error. 

The blurbs (front and back) rave about the book. It is highly readable — a leisurely afternoon extended into a late evening should suffice for the 385 pages. One thing is certain: this will be a major poolside-lounger book of the summer. Random House/Arrow will be despatching copies by the truck-load.

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Not quite a farrago of Fawking rubbish

There comes a moment when even the most avid devotee suffers disillusion. The true socialist had it early on with the whole Blair “project”. It has taken longer for loyal Tories (in part because that is the “stupid party”, but more so because the scales are more encrusted on the eyes).

So this morning the inimitable Paul Staines (by name and by nature) treated his window-lickers to a breakfast treat with this:

Dave’s government is now proposing to allow the security services to monitor every single email, Facebook status update, text and tweet. This is such an about turn, which will ramp up the surveillance state so much, that one wonders if it is deliberately being set out to be defeated. Libertarian Tories and the LibDem left will form a parliamentary coalition against it which a cynical opposition will surely join. The more Machiavellian-minded might suspect that the purpose of the proposal is to be dropped and thereby demonstrate that the government is listening to its backbenchers. Surely when we already have Google already monitoring everything, we hardly need the state to get in the game…

 Sancta simplicitas!

Google is good — it is a regular staple of Malcolmian trawlings — but not that good.

There’s something flattering  and weird in itself to assume our ConDem Leaders (who can’t keep a budget secret, unless it’s £1 billion fleeced from OAPs) are capable of being “Machiavellian”. The notion that this bone-headed lot are up for a double-bluff against their own parliamentary support is beyond bizarre.

No. This is an exemplary case of “going native”. As soon as a minister starts to open a red box and find documents headed “top secret” and “for your eyes only”, or even just confidential briefings, the blue mist rises. An epistle from Jonathan Evans at MI5 or (Genuflect! Genuflect! Genuflect!) Richard Dearlove at MI6 means senses of proportion are forever mis-shapen.

Look to the lady

There’s a nice set-to between David Davis (whom God preserve) of Haltemprice and Howden and Theresa May in The Sun. Now, stop sniggering at the back that Murdoch’s phone-hacking organ asks a Daily Mail-type question:

Are GCHQ about to spy on you?

John Rentoul insists such things are the world-famous series of Questions to Which the Answer is No — as of today, up to #783 and counting. Even so, Theresa May’s input is instructive

THE internet is now a part of our daily lives — it’s where we book our holidays, buy our Christmas presents and chat to our friends.

But new technology can also be abused by criminals, paedophiles and terrorists who want to cover their tracks and keep their communication secret.

Right now, the police and security agencies use information from phone records to solve crime and keep us safe.

Looking at who a suspect talks to can lead the police to other criminals. Whole paedophile rings, criminal conspiracies and terrorist plots can then be smashed.

Notice the use of “paedophiles” (stroking a Sun reader’s erogenous zone) and “criminals”.

Hold it there, Terry Girl! They’re not “criminals” until they’ve been incriminated by a court of law. Which brings us to James Brokenshire … parliamentary under secretary of state responsible for crime and security, sixth out of six in the Home Office pecking order, and — sent out yesterday to hold the fort. He came up with a formula: the proposals were not a “snooping exercise”, because they were concerned only with the “who, where and when”.

So, Malcolm wonders, how is the “who, where and when” relevant without the “what”?

Say Macolm rings for a pizza to a parlour which is under suspicion for … oh, say, drug-dealing. How do the snoopers know whether Malcolm is part of the dastardly doings without checking out his “Two twelve-inch Quattro Formaggi, a dough balls, if you please”?

Anyway, since intercept evidence is apparently not going to be available in Court, what is the purpose of such an all-purpose scanning of decent, law-abiding folk and their daily dealings?

The gorge rises

Staines/Fawkes may be capable of finding obscurantist excuses for this Cameroonie dementia (Heaven knows he’s done it often enough); but he is right that all this is beyond any acceptable bounds.

  • But this is Britain, after all.
  • We don’t do the surveillance society!
  • We don’t do oppression!
  • It couldn’t happen here!

Oh, yeah?

Remember, should you doubt, the striking miner at Orgreave, given the full tromping, stamping, and stomping, then arrested and charged with “damage to a policeman’s boot”.

Malcolm had a recent experience, escorting a couple of Californian ladies through Covent Garden. When they looked askance down one darkened side-road, the question timidly came, “Is it safe here?” Malcolm pointed to the CCTV cameras — there were seven in clear sight. Curiously, such over-kill didn’t reassure the ladies.

We could have recited DORA here, and the unspeakable Jix. Or how a later Home Secretary had a young man hanged, despite the urgings to leniency from the jury and the presiding judge, because there was likely to be a vacancy for the premiership, and that Home Secretary fancied his chances, provided his could bolster his law’n’order creeds with the Tory right.  Or how another Home Secretary intervened (behind the scenes) in a later capital trial, in part because it eased the Government’s political difficulties in industrial troubles with the medics.

But there’s a stronger clincher.

The Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Acts (Northern Ireland), 1922 to 1943

The Special Powers Act (as it was generally known) remained in place for the full period of Unionist hegemony in Northern Ireland. Although all that time the overall power rested with the Westminster Parliament and the Home Secretary, only after direct rule were the powers revoked.

Hitler was an admirer of the Special Powers Act, and regretted in 1933 that he lacked the ability to introduce similar measures in Germany (he certainly and speedily sorted that small difficulty).

In April 1963, the South African “minister of justice”, Belthazar Johannes Vorster, introduced the Coercion Bill,  the nub of the apartheid laws. In making his modest proposals he stated he “would be willing to exchange all the legislation of this sort for one clause of the Northern Ireland Special Powers Act”.

Suck it and see

The Special Powers Act starts:

The civil authority shall have power, in respect of persons, matters and things within the jurisdiction of the Government of Northern Ireland, to take all such steps and issue all such orders as may be necessary for preserving the peace and maintaining order, according to and in the execution of this Act and the regulations contained in the Schedule thereto, or such regulations as may be made in accordance with the provisions of this Act (which regulations, whether contained in the said Schedule or made as aforesaid, are in this Act referred to as “the regulations “):
Provided that the ordinary course of law and avocations of life and the enjoyment of property shall be interfered with as little as may be permitted by the exigencies of the steps required to be taken under this Act.

Which is a pretty wide scope. That latter sentence, in the light of how the Acts were interpreted “on the streets”, is little more than weasel-words.

And then there’s section 25:

No person shall by word of mouth or in writing, or in any newspaper, periodical, book, circular, or other printed publication —

  • spread false reports or make false statements; or
  • spread reports or make statements intended or likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty, or to interfere with the success of any police or other force acting for the preservation of the peace or maintenance of order in Northern Ireland; or
  • spread reports or make statements intended or likely to prejudice the recruiting or enrolment of persons to serve in any police or other force enrolled or employed for the preservation of the peace or maintenance of order in Northern Ireland, or to prejudice the training, discipline, or administration of any such force; and no person shall produce any performance on any stage, or exhibit any picture or cinematograph film, or commit any act which is intended or likely to cause any disaffection, interference or prejudice as aforesaid, and if any person contravenes any of the above provisions he shall be guilty of an offence against these regulations.

If any person without lawful authority or excuse has in his possession or on premises in his occupation or under his control, any document containing a report or statement the publication of which would be a contravention of the foregoing provisions of this regulation, he shall be guilty of an offence against these regulations, unless he proves that he did not know and had no reason to suspect that the document contained any such report or statement, or that he had no intention of transmitting or circulating the document or distributing copies thereof to or amongst other persons.

So Mrs May and Mr Cameron have a ready-drafted Bill.

Merely add the odd reference to electronic communication.

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Devious diggers and curious curators

The current issue of the Times Literary Supplement is a wall-to-wall Dickensian extravaganza. Then there’s the main article  — page three of the TLS is a major event, any week.

It is a Richard Clogg’s review of Susan Heuck Allen’s Classical Spies. For the record, Clogg is a historian with a Grecian bent and Allen an archaeologist. So, can the twain ever meet?

Whereas the book’s subtitle suggests an exclusively American perspective, Clogg spends a lot of useful time considering what the Brits, dispossessed to Cairo and elsewhere, were up to for the duration. We come to a different view to the norm of the WW2 activities of the archaeologists and Hellenists:

 the classicists and archaeologists appointed to the American and British schools were indeed engaged in intelligence work, while their counterparts in the German, Italian and Vichy-controlled French schools carried on digging on behalf of the German occupying forces.

Digging, that is, in the broadest sense of the word.

Clogg drops names who were SOE types:

C.M.Woodhouse, N.G.L.Hammond, Anthony Andrewes, Stanley Casson, J.M.Cook, T.J.Dunbabin, Peter Fraser, Eric Gray, T. Bruce Mitford, David Talbot Rice, J.D.S.Pendlebury and David Wallace.

In the ’60s you didn’t get very far reading (or, in Malcolm’s case, barely scanning) Classics or early History without hitting hard against many of those names.

  • Bruce-Mitford, for example, was a fixture at the British Museum for four decades — and wrote the definitive study of the Sutton Hoo burial.
  • If anyone needs a right-wing hero figure, Monty Woodhouse (there he is, right, in full Greek mountain fig) might qualify. Straight out of New College, Oxford (with a double first, to boot), he was into the Royal Artillery. By 1941 he was in Crete, liaising with the resistance, then onto the mainland with the Harling Force, and by 1943 (still in his mid-20s) a full Colonel in charge of the British Military Mission in Greece. After the War he was still spooking: first in Athens (machinating as Second Secretary against the Muscovites), then in Tehran overthrowing the Mosaddegh government and establishing the Western-friendly Pahlevi régime (a certain Kermit Roosevelt was doing his bit for the CIA). Oh, and in between Woodhouse was a Tory MP for two terms and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. And was among the first to finger Kurt Waldheim, sometime secretary general of the United Nations and President of Austria, as a Nazi executioner, ignorant of Jasenovac concentration camp and deaf and blind to summary executions of Titoists outside his office.

Nearer home

Let’s change the location to Dublin, well out of the climactic events of the wartime period (By the way, when will “historians” recognise that, unlike Switzerland, Ireland seems never to have formally declared “neutrality?)

Surely, there’s no parallel?

Mahr, not less

Well, there was Adolf Mahr, an Austrian whose dedication Nazism predated the Anchluss. In his spare time from being Director of the National Museum he quite openly ran the Nazi Auslandorganisation in Ireland, complete with its own Hitler Youth. That involved him with the strange ménage around Maud Gonne, which included her daughter Iseult and son-in-law Francis Stuart. Mahr’s reports back to Berlin had identified certain Germans as “Juden”, thus guaranteeing their ends. A cynic might also go looking for a rationale of the remarkable Goethe-Plakette in 1934 to WB Yeats, soon after Mahr’s appointment as Director of the Museum.

At the outbreak of War in 1939, Mahr was — conveniently for the Irish government, which then didn’t need to expel him — “on holiday” back in Germany (and, in 1945, when he came looking for his job back, made him extremely unwelcome). `Marooned in wartime Germany,  Mahr went to work for Goebbels’ propaganda radio and Irland Redaktion. By 1944 Mahr was running Ru IX and Ru II, which broadcast to Britain, Ireland and the British Empire, usually immediately after “Lord Haw-Haw”.

Nice guy: the dirt on him and Ireland’s other Nazis was well dished by David O’Donoghue for History: Ireland. A small detail: even with Mahr in Berlin, Nazis were running the Turf Board and the ESB, with a niche in the Department of Finance.

The extraordinary Richard Hayes

Passing Mahr regularly, and probably on nodding terms at least, would have been Richard Hayes, the director of the National Library. Take care here: there are two Richard Hayes around at this period: the other one was censoring films, and not every writer (and even fewer indexers) has sorted the one from the other.

Librarian Hayes was another of those polymaths made extinct by ever-greater specialisation in higher education: he had three honors (correct spelling, Malcolm assures you) degrees from Trinity — in Celtic Studies, in Modern Languages, and in Philosophy. By the time of the Emergency, Hayes too had a sideline. Having polished off the administration at the National Library, daily he bestrode his sit-up-and-beg bicycle up to Collins Barracks in Arbour Hill. There he devoted himself to the systematic decoding of all and anything that came his way. He was Ireland’s one-man equivalent of Bletchley Park.

The National Library hold a remarkable collection of Hayes papers, relating to his crypto-analysis. We can see he worked on double-folio broadsheets, ruled into harlequin squares. Clearly, as early as 1939 Hayes was breaking the German and American diplomatic cyphers. The “approved” version is that Hayes was into the British cypher by late-1941. That may well be true, except it is a very useful date for “previous offences” not to be taken into account. Equally, it may be that Colonel Dan Bryan, who became head of G2 in 1942, was felt by some to be too close to the British MI5; and not all the material Hayes accessed crossed Bryan’s desk. We must also be aware that the Hayes papers we have have probably been “weeded”. In any event, the British were extremely impressed by Hayes’s results: he had a hand in the arrest of all of the dozen German spies during the Emergency. If there is one particular success, it must be the cracking of the code used by Hermann Goertz, who managed to stay “on the run” in Dublin for nineteen months (another suspiciously convenient arrangement: in that time Goertz was repeatedly face-to-face with the greatest in the land and in the Irish military).

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Filed under Dublin., History, Ireland, Military, reading, security, Times Literary Supplement, Tories., World War 2

Tin-foil hat time?

Let’s put a few totally unrelated thoughts together:

As far back as May 2011:

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) has been criticised in a report examining its operations in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Independent inspector John Vine said he was concerned at how it operated at major ports and airports.

He found senior managers focused on moving staff to passport control, potentially at the expense of detecting drugs and other illicit goods.

He also said it had not assessed the threat to small ports and airports.

On to the latest:

Mrs May is facing Labour demands to disclose whether any terror suspects are believed to have entered the country after border guards were instructed not to carry out certain passport checks.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has claimed that border controls were relaxed to keep queues down despite cuts to personnel. It also said the decision was authorised by ministers.

Sue Smith, of the PCS, blamed what she claimed had been a 10 per cent reduction in border force staff.

‘The travelling public understandably want to have a fast and efficient service, and yet we are also under a reduced workforce,’ she said.

‘So, I think senior managers have seen this as a way to provide the public with what they want.’

She added that senior managers had told the union that the changes to border checks had been made with the authorisation of ministers.

‘As far as our staff were concerned, this was all done with ministerial authority, and that’s the information we have received,’ she said.

What that means:

Apart from the obvious headline stuff, the 20% budget slash and staffing cutbacks — 5,000 jobs over four years —  in the UKBA means that “minor” ports and smaller airfields go without cover:

The operator of the flight undertakes full security and passport checks prior to the passenger’s arrival at the airport. This is then usually followed by a further, quick ID and baggage check before boarding, which means that the passengers are able to move through the F[ixed] B[ase] O[perator] very quickly once they arrive – without the security delays so often experienced at main airport terminals. Depending on the country, these final checks can often be undertaken by the staff of the FBO or handling agent.

Arrive by a private plane at a minor airfield and there’s no UKBA cover at all. Of course, such VIPs are “pre-screened” — aren’t they? Anyone, such decent, upstanding folk shouldn’t be inconvenienced to the same degradation as us peasants. Right?


Lydd airport was, immediately post-WW2, the main base for short-hops to France — it ran a well-publicised car-ferry lift to Le Touquet. Bring your Rolls, your Bentley, and we’ll have you on the golf-course or in the casino within the hour.

It has a 5,000 foot runway  not much short of Belfast City, Jersey, Derry City — and certainly longer than London City’s 3900 feet — all of which are up to running scheduled services.

That may add a touch of spice to Private Eye‘s recent report:

A PLANNING inspector is now settling down, after hearing eight months of evidence, to decide whether to back Shepway district councillors’ bizarre decision to grant permission for a runway extension and a new terminal at Lydd Airport against the strong advice of their own planning officers (Eyes passim).

But a court case earlier this year may throw some light on how decisions are reached in that part of Kent.

The airport’s former boss, Jordanian Zaher Deir, was suing owner Sheikh Fahad Al Athel (familiar to Eye readers as the Saudi arms dealer in the Al Yamamah scandal) over non-payment of directorship fees. In evidence, the sheikh challenged some of Deir’s spending on his company credit card. But Deir told the court that the purchases were not for his own benefit but, er, “gifts to councillors” to further the interests of the company.

Malcolm may be a conspiracy theorist, but  how decisions are reached in that part of Kent wouldn’t be his immediate thought there.

It might involve “arm dealer” and uncontrolled access to the UK.

Or, as Clive Aslet of Country Life wrote for the Daily Telegraph (albeit before the 2010 General Election):

Lydd lies at the end of a straggle of lanes which would not cope with the traffic of two million prospective passengers. Less than two miles away is a nuclear power station: not the sort of thing you would want to crash a 737 aircraft into, unless you happened to be a terrorist, of course. As for jobs, politicians tend to forget that local people might become baggage handlers but better paid work would go to more highly skilled workers brought in from outside.

The fact that Lydd airport is unlikely ever to be commercially profitable will not, of itself, influence the planning outcome. Under our glorious system, private individuals and companies are entitled to lose their money if they want to. But the rest of us have an interest in keeping this extraordinary and evocative place as it is. We live in uncertain times.

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Filed under air travel., City of Derry Airport, Conservative Party policy., Daily Telegraph, politics, Private Eye, security, Theresa May

Off-spin bowling?

There were a few cocked eyebrows among the pundits that former Spook-mistress, Dame Pauline Neville-Jones (as near as dammit, Judi Dench’s M), had demanded her P45. And so conveniently, over the weekend when the said political pundits should have been sleeping off the excesses of “Super Thursday”.

It is, therefore, intriguing to find Paul Goodman playing a straight defensive bat on Con Home. Goodman takes guard with an extended scaping of the wicket involving Neville-Jones’s non-replacement, Angela Browning. Browning’s previous parliamentary zenith was as a PUS at Min of Ag and Fish. High powered stuff, but not in the Neville-Jones stratosphere.

Then Goodman offers the backward defensive, as taught to Malcolm, aged 11, at Fakenham Grammar School (with little advantage to Malcolm’s career batting average):

There was no crisis, no rupture, no disagreement.  Sources close to Neville-Jones confirm that she was entirely happy with “the broad drift of policy”.

Which isn’t quite the version that the Daily Mail has:

A Home Office minister reported to have had a ‘difficult’ relationship with her boss, Theresa May, resigned last night.

Baroness Neville-Jones quit the post of Security and Counter-Terrorism Minister, which she had held since the Coalition was formed.

She gave no reasons in her resignation letter to David Cameron. Downing Street said she had stepped down ‘at her own request’.

But sources suggested she had argued repeatedly with both Home Secretary Mrs May and Liberal Democrat ministers.

A Whitehall source said: ‘She had her fair share of fallings-out with the Home Secretary. Maybe she fell out with the Home Secretary one time too many.’

Nor that retailed by the Telegraph:

Lady Neville-Jones, 70, is not retiring and was immediately appointed as Special Representative to Business on Cyber Security.

Whitehall sources said how she still had “lots of energy” and was a forceful character.

The move fuelled suggestions last night that the peer, while getting on with Theresa May, felt decisions on security matters were often made over her head.

And one civil rights campaigner suggested she may have been uncomfortable pushing through controversial police reform plans.

The Home Secretary has taken a very active role in security policy since taking office and it was unclear last night whether the post of security minister would even be filled.

One can sense there a degree of what, in the bad old pre-ConDem days, was termed  —


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Filed under Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Norfolk, security, Tories., Wells-next-the-Sea